Enterprise stories with Donna Lichaw

A transcript of Episode 165 of UX Podcast. James Royal-Lawson and Per Axbom talk with Donna Lichaw about storymapping and enterprise UX.

Photo taken by James Royal-Lawson at From Business to Buttons 2017



UX podcast episode 165

James: I’m James Royal-Lawson.

Per: I am Per Axbom.

James: and this is UX podcast balancing business technology in people every other Friday from Stockholm Sweden. We have listeners in 171 countries around the world from South Korea to the USA.

Per: Today we have for you an interview with award winning documentary film maker author of the recent film media book The User’s Journey, story mapping products that people love. She is a consultant, speaker, writer she runs the popular workshop where she utilizes a story first approach to help teams define value proposition, transformed their thinking, and better engage with their core customers, Donna Lichaw!

James: We talked to Donna about a year ago in episode 140 around the time that her book was published but today we are going to go back to the beginning with mapping stories for enterprise UX. This is where it all began for Donna and we talked to her at From Business to Buttons here in Stockholm a few months ago.


James: Yesterday I got to ask my someone in my team on in the projects I work on who you are looking for to must tomorrow at From Business to Button and one of the answers I gave was well I’m looking forward to meeting in person Donna and listening to her do her talk and see how that compares to the interview we’ve done and the book, which I’ve read. Most of it. It’s thrown back at me saying well storytelling, storymapping, how that is applicable and useful for us because we are working with enterprise UX on this projects. The hero, our user, isn’t the customer and that kind of… that’s a really good question I said. And I went on to list some more people I was interested in.

Per: And now you are forwarding that question to Donna?

James: Now I’m passing the book. A little bit.

Donna: Yes.

James: ’Cause it was a good question.

Donna: It’s a great question and it’s.. So that question specifically is perfect because it is how I started developing this concept of mapping stories for products. I was several years ago working on an enterprise product and what I found is that there were, in that case, there was the buyer and there was the end user. Both had to have a compelling story arc to the experience. Because the buyer is the one who had the story where they came through Google or word of mouth and then they found it and they had to go to the website and they had to be a strong call to action that told them why they were going to be heroes if they bought this service, in this case.

Then the climax of their story wasn’t when they purchased it — that might have been the climax for the first episode — but the climax to their story rested in the success of the end users using this enterprise software and service. That buyer needed to know that their employees that they were buying it for were going to be successful. It was almost a story that was out of their hands but they needed to feel secure. What we did was we mapped stories for the buyer so that’s where we figured out things like search engine optimization, how they are going to find us and how they are going to come through the door.

Then we also we mapped out stories for the end user the employees who were using this service and what we found is that we needed to ultimately build this product — it was a product and a service kind of wrapped up in one — We ultimately needed to build it with a solid story structure for the end user so that they would keep using it over time because the first version-

James: They want to turn up for their job every day?

Donna: Exactly so this was an educational an online training platform for employees. With online training if they are not using it then the buyer says screw this we are paying too much money and we are canceling it or we are going to go with a competitor who’s cheaper.

The stories interplayed with one another if you can imagine so the end user we had many stories of how they were going to use the product. We had to keep them engaged and so there are ways that we quantify engagement for employees but then the buyer needed a dashboard where they had to see employee engagements. They had their own story well the first episode was they — actually we thought it was they gave us their credit card.

We find it a giant cliff hanger which is when we try to take credit cards online these buyers were spending way too much money to put their credit card down. We ended up — there first episode was they made a phone call went to website and then they were like no I’m not giving you my money. They called a sales rep and then the store, the sales rep continued the story so not even an interface. But then future episodes they log in, they have a dashboard, they see that their employees are engaged and it’s through something that had many iterations. We made sure that we adapted over time. Probably took, in the end, a year to really refine it so that it was as successful because we thought that maybe after three months the buyer would call us and say hey so people aren’t using it anymore so how do we get people to use it so I think it’s completely applicable.

Per: You need to figure out what performance indicators are in the dashboard as well I guess?

Donna: Yes.

Per: For them to feel confident that something is happening.

Donna: Exactly so if it was like this was a video training platform so we had to talk to buyers find out what mattered to them. What mattered was it length of time that you watched these videos or was it how many videos you watched or was it what you learned. And in the end it was all the above so we had that different ways to kind of expose the story from the end user to the buyer, so that they all felt like heroes.

James: You’ve got the buyers and you got the end users but in this narrative you’ve just given there you had like search engine optimization or that kind of market side thing. Would do you do stories, or what would about the situation where you had like a sales team or your product wasn’t one you find in search engines its proper big SAP enterprise stuff where the point of contact is where some sales crew goes to meet someone and books in time. Is that something we need to look at for stories and build them there as well?

Donna: Yes you absolutely need to look for stories and build them and then great thing about sales team is they might have already had a story telling training in their past. Sales people have been on to this for years. Sales and like people who work in development for non-profits, the people who ask for money basically, they have a long history of training in storytelling. What they know is that when they tell stories to people on the other end the stories grab them in and they are more likely to close the sale and that kind of a thing.

When you tell a sales team hey, did you know that you don’t only have to tell a story but you are a part of a story and you show them the whole journey and you show them hey someone came from Google and they went to the website, they saw that they can pay via credit card then there was a cliffhanger so now they are going to call you and you are at this point in the plot and you are the climax of this episode. You are going to make this buyer feel heroic so then you start roleplaying with them and figure out how you get the buyer over the hurdle.

James: This is third dimensional story mapping isn’t it?

Donna: That’s why I have this tattoo I wish your listeners could see it.

James: We can take a picture of it.

Donna: That’s why I’m trying to figure out how to… The next project I’m working on I’m actually working on right now is developing this from not just enterprise context but also for internal context because the number one thing people come back to me after they start mapping stories out on their own projects is people come back to me and say not just “my product is successful and we launched an amazing service I’m so happy” they say “I’m a hero. I look really good to my teammates they listen to me we work more effectively and efficiently and fast and people like me”. I’m trying to also figure out internally how to illustrate this in a way that you can go back to work and think, how do I make my boss a hero because that’s ultimately what you are also doing.

James: Yes.

Donna: Its many levels right.

Per: It sounds like you…

James: It’s interconnecting, just the whole three dimensional aspect, that the story for the sales bit interlinks at a certain chapter — episode — to the buyers but their story interlinks at certain chapter episodes to the people using it and then actually we’ve got stories as well because we are designers and we need to fill happy about it all.

Donna: Yes.

Per: It’s like an excellent way of building employee loyalty and satisfaction because that sounds like they got excited — look I’m part of the story. I can be an actor here and I can make like I can — what do you say, it’s my choice to see what happens to be a part of this and engage other people the way I want them to. It’s fantastic you are like an actor in a movie.

Donna: It’s huge. What’s great about it too is it, there’s a lot of tension often between… so between a few parties — between sales and product or sales and design or sales and engineering. So sales and the creative people often have a lot of tension because often times in an enterprise context sales sells a product or a feature often at times it’s as though it doesn’t exist and then they come back to the product team whoever that is and they say now we needed this and the product team is frustrated because they are like “but what that’s stupid we don’t want that and only that it’s one client who wants this but what all of our other thousands of clients”.

There is that attention there and then there is also the separate one — marketing for example — so this affects marketing and marketing in product often has attention where marketing says we are bringing people in but then you won’t convert them. Like give them a product that they actually want to use and so when you can get sales, marketing, engineering, design, product to collaborate as much as possible and you get them to see that they each have a part in building a story for the end user, the customer, the buyer, whoever that is it empowers people and then it makes them feel like they are building their business together and that they have a purpose pretty neat.

James: It is absolutely. And the times I’ve had conversations with people about that pressure point or that conflict point between sales and marketing and UX and you’re trying to do the right thing the right way starting with research and the whole process that we are familiar with and sales got no I don’t already care I just need to have it flashy and blinging and really kind of good so I can stand there and deliver my story so that people sign on the dotted line then we can worry about how we implement it.

Donna: Yes.

James: That feels disheartening from design point of view. It feels like it’s the wrong order but it actually it’s not the wrong order…

Donna: I know and it’s funny because the number one pain-point I hear from people who work in design organizations is, “why don’t people listen to us” like we know how to do this, we have this process that we know it works because when we’ve done it, it works. We have built successful businesses by having this user centered approach and why won’t people listen to us and let us do our thing. I think there is fear and when you think about a story the hero in a story, they are very few — I’ll say movies for example — they are very few movies where a hero and a story starts off the journey wanting to be a hero. I can think of one movie what was it, it was in the 80s that football movie Lukas no?

This kid wants to be in this football hero right and that’s what they do or like what was it breaking, the biking, the sports movie often right they want it to be something but typically — and this goes back like to.. Aristotle talked about this thousands of years ago — typically a hero is.. they have an extrinsic motivation a story begins and then something happens and changes in their world and they are forced to go on a journey. People at work like your boss, your executive team, your engineers, designers, product manager, sales, marketing, everybody, they are kind of the same, like no one, like we’ve all resistant and bodies at rest to begin with. Sometimes you just need to grab people and put them on a journey of what would be their story and so it plays kind of gives us so many levels here.

James: Not realizing that some of the actors in your story are internal people that the salespeople or marketing people are also actors in your story.

Donna: Yes empower sales and marketing and engineers it makes your job so much easier.

Per: It sounds like it’s hugely powerful internally then. Also now that we are seeing there is so much power in this and we are getting so excited about as well — that sort of wait a minute so with great power comes great responsibility is there a dark side to this I mean stories can be used to persuade people?

Donna: Whenever I think about the power of storytelling I think about Steve Jobs. He was a master story teller I think at first not have explicitly realized what he was doing but eventually he built pixar as the company that they are today. I think eventually he was actually immersed in Hollywood and knew what he was doing. The downside to being a master storyteller in an internal context at work is it can be manipulative. He is also a master manipulator and he would get people to work like slaves and people got divorced working on projects and like health problems. It would be absolutely insane so the downside is it can be a very powerful tool to get troops rallied internally but I think you need to use it carefully.

The other thing that you need to be careful of also is something about Uber a lot lately because they have budged people where at from business to button conference today and a bunch of people are bringing up Uber as a cautionary tale of when an executive builds, a business that is built on deceit how it trickles done throughout the organization and effects not only morale but your customer morale as well.

What, for a while I thought that the problem with Uber might be that they are a company that was not built on a structurally sound story and that maybe that’s what was lacking and what wasn’t driving them as a business to do good in the world but what occurred to me recently is that they have a story and it’s a very sound story and it’s one that their founder does echo all the time and it’s a story, it’s like a war story. It’s a pretty violent story — his mission is to kind of to abolish the old ways of getting places. It’s to kill the taxi companies and it’s very violent — that’s the best way of putting it.

Per: Exactly.

Donna: When a story is positioned in a violent way you can flip that story and say, I want to help people get places and they kind of try to do that but the violence is the one that comes out most. When you have that kind of story behind the company employee morale is problematic — I know a lot of friends and colleagues who have refused to take jobs at Uber when Uber tries to hire them. Consultants who don’t want to work with them. Customers who delete their apps and get all upset when the CEO does things that he shouldn’t do. So story, it’s there whether you craft it as a business or not and so the way I say is ideally make sure the story is a positive one. You can’t make it up and it shouldn’t be fake it has to be real but it’s pretty powerful either way.

Per: Great power, great responsibly. Thank you so much for being with us today Donna excellent continuing our chat on that I got so many new ideas now I’m excited to try them out.

Donna: Me too this is fun.


Per: Listening to Donna again now and reflecting upon the complexity of all these stories intertwined made me think of novels I read where every other chapter is from a different person’s perspective so it’s the same story but it’s just another person reflecting on the events and you realize that everybody in their own mind of course is the center of attention. I’m even thinking of user centered design where you always put the user in the center and everything has to reflect on that but of course everybody can be in the center in some way in some part of the story.

James: You saying that reminds me of a Mike Figgis film from 17 years ago now called Time code, which — I love the film especially from a cinema zoography point of view. Because it’s what Mike Figgis did in that film he split the screen into four quadrants and filmed the story in one take using four cameras following different characters through their story arc. Now occasionally more than one quadrant was actually in the same scene as the characters converged and interplayed with each other and then they went their separate ways again. What he did then as director instead of switching the camera shot — because you saw four camera shots at once — he switched the audio from quadrant to quadrant.

The narrative was laid out by the audio track and you have then to follow the right quadrant to see the visual side of it. But it’s an excellent — I think in this context it’s an excellent example — go out there and find the film and watch it and it’s good example of how you can see the intertwining of the convergence of different heroes in a film. ’Cause Time code does have several heroes and they do come together which is what we’ve been talking about. What you’re saying as well with user centric or even hero centred — Hero centric design — which is what we are talking about with Donna and enterprise UX that the marketing department or the sales department or purchaser of the enterprise system, they want to feel like heroes too.

Per: Exactly and I’m also thinking from an enterprise perspective there’s always this problem of people — employees. They don’t understand really where do I fit into the big picture of what reaches the end customer and of course looking at it from this perspective you can always tell the story from their perspective and how that fits into the complete experience of the end customer. Thinking of a movie, sure you may be the comic side kick but there wouldn’t be a movie without you there’s all these characters. Everybody can’t be the protagonist, there are so many other people but everybody contributes to the full experience.

James: Yes and I think something that I’ve noticed or felt over the years — especially when talking to other people — that some of this other groups in enterprise situations marketing sales are two the ones that we’ve brought up a far a bit now. They get a bad rap, they get a lot of bad vibes from designers because you get that “can you add this button here” or there’s lot of directives that come from some of this organizations or the highest paid HIPPO saying “well can we make this blue”. That makes you feel down-trodden and crushed as a designer when your work is getting misunderstood or destroyed by other. It feels like that a lot of the times. But what you can… Whenever you are working with someone if you assume that they’ve got some kind of positive intent from their perspective. They want to be heroes we do remember that everyone wants to be a hero then that helps you as a designer frame your response or the way that you work with them, that if you understand that they are trying to do good and that they do want to be a hero then that sets the stage for you to learn what is it that will make them a hero. What is it that they will, so we start mapping up the story, we start understanding what makes them tick, what makes them feel like they’ve achieved what they were trying to achieve.

Per: That’s a really good point and that’s what I think they are doing here, the stories are doing here they are helping you build empathy for all the other participants in the stage or in the story.

James: Helping you build empathy and understand where the overlaps are so you can make the most from… you can make everyone into the biggest hero as possible over your entire story arc.

Per: It’s sort of fun to think about your everyday work life as different episodes of a TV series. It sort of makes your work more fun. But I was thinking about it as well from the perspective okay so if we look at ourselves as actors does that mean we are lying? I sort of raised the question are we persuading other people of course there’s that risk as well that we are now I’m playing this part because it’s fun. I may not actually be me so you also have to be really careful that the story is made of what is true and not what you would perhaps want it to be in a sort of deceitful way.

James: I think it’s a good analogy thinking as like being part of producing a TV series. Or actually a lot of times it feels like we are producing sitcoms.

Per: Yes hence the comic side kick.

James: I actually took out — Donna mentioned Aristotle in the interview and a lot of the storytelling concepts comes from Aristotle or the classics. I got a quote here I can read from Aristotle talking about poets or poetry. “As from the story whether the poet takes it ready-made or constructs it for himself he should first get its general outlined and then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail.” That was a general quote about story telling, story arcs, narratives but it’s true for enterprise UX as much it’s for type of design situation.

Per: I love when we realize it all comes together and what we are doing is not all that unique.

James: Yes there’s so many tools out here in the giant workbox — toolbox of design that we can pull on.

Per: I have to mention in the show notes, you will be adding that photo you took of Donna’s tattoo that you mentioned in the show as well so that you can see it for yourself.

James: Yes she did let us take a photograph of her tattoo so you can see it. But for those that can’t maybe see then Donna’s tattoo is actually a cube with a smaller cube inside it and then the outer corners between the two cubes are connected. I’m not sure how good my audio descriptive powers are but…

Per: it’s just a visualization of complexity?

James: Yes cube in a cube.

Per: Made me think of Doctor Who, I don’t know why?

James: All right.

Per: Show notes — find them on our website uxpodcast.com and as you UX podcast you will find us pretty much anywhere.

James: Yes and on uxpodcast.com you can also dip your toes into our back catalogue there are 60 shows that are available in our podcast feed but there are another 104 on the website so go in there and have a little listen.

Per: Remember to keep moving.

James: See you on the other side.


Per: Knock knock?

James: Who’s there?

Per: Doris.

James: Doris who?

Per: Door is Locked, that’s why I knocked.

[End of transcript]

This is a transcript of a conversation between James Royal-Lawson, Per Axbom and Donna Lichaw recorded for UX Podcast in April/August 2017. To hear more episodes visit uxpodcast.com or search for UX Podcast in your favourite podcast client.